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Christmas Ink Slingers Maurisa Prayer

Reflections on the Nativity

 

Notes on Guided Meditation According to Saint Francis de Sales

I’ve been reading Saint Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life and applying some his proscribed practices to my prayer life, especially during my weekly holy hour.  One exercise I’m particularly fond of is following his plan for focused meditation upon individual scenes from Christ’s life.  The recommended steps condensed into the simplest terms are:

  1. Place yourself in the presence of God, recognizing He is everywhere and seeking Him within your heart; praying for Him to make His presence felt.
  2. Recognize your own unworthiness to be in the presence of God; humbling yourself before Him.
  3. Using your imagination place yourself in the midst of the particular mystery from Christ’s life on which you desire to meditate. Here a work of religious art can be especially helpful.
  4. Having spent some time placing yourself within the scene begin to make reflections upon it; seeking the lesson to be learned.
  5. Turn these reflections into firm resolutions for spiritual growth and for amending of your life and humbly ask for the graces you need to accomplish such.
  6. In concluding your meditation make acts of thanksgiving, oblation, and intercession

When I practice this method of meditation it helps if I write out my reflections and resolutions. 

Meditation and Reflections on the Nativity

Taking the Nativity as my subject and using the beautiful painting by Gary Melchers above to help me focus, my reflections from a recent meditation were as follows:

Having concluded their arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph suffer the indignity of not being able to find a place to stay within the city.  Seeing that Mary is so young, so near her time, and so exhausted from the journey, an empathetic inn keeper takes pity upon them (God bless that inn keeper!) and offers them space in a stable not far  from the inn.  Mercifully for the weary travelers, the space is safe, dry, clean (as stables go), warm and offers them privacy as the Child’s birth approaches.

I imagine a midwife or experienced housemaid assist Mary as she labors through the night. What a blessing to have been the one to assist such a birth! In some theological circles, there is debate regarding whether Mary experienced actual labor pains or was she spared this suffering due to the merits of her Immaculate Conception and perfectly conformed will.  For me, it helps to think Mary did indeed labor in pain. It helps me to identify more closely with her. (Up-dated to include a link explaining why my perception here is actually contradictory to Tradition)Mary is finally delivered and Jesus is placed in her arms.  As much as I adored each new life placed in my arms as a mother, I cannot fathom the pure love Mary feels for the infant Savior.  She and Joseph are filled with joy.  The stable is filled with warmth and light.  To be present at such a miracle had to have been euphoric.

Spent and relieved, exhaustion over comes the Blessed Mother, as so beautifully depicted in Melchers’ painting.  She slumps upon the floor, leaning against a contemplative Joseph for support.  It is here I most commiserate with her.  Her vulnerability and sacrifice can be deeply felt in her posture and expression having spent her last bit of energy in delivering the Messiah. It is a blessed relief to have completed bearing a child, but there is a sense she knows her labors have only just begun.

This nativity is fairly bare compared to most.  Melchers chooses to depict Mary, Joseph, and the babe alone.  The stable is dark, save for the preternatural glow from the Child and the light from the doorway signaling dawn has arrived.  The scene is pensive, tranquil, and filled with hope. 

Dear sistas, may you find peace, joy, and hope this Christmas season and may God bless and protect you in the coming year.

Information on the artist

Julius Garibaldi Melchers (1860-1932) was an American Artist whose most famous works include the murals War and Peace and are now part of the Library of Congress collection.  He lived and did most of his painting in Europe where he was honored with several awards. As with many of the artists of the day, he favored naturalism and later in his career adopted a more impressionistic style.  He painted The Nativity in 1891. No further information on the painting could be found.  

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Ink Slingers

A Catholic Sistas Interview with Artists Daniel Mitsui

This past month I was fortunate enough to interview artist Daniel Mitsui. With stunning and unique Catholic artwork, Daniel is an artist to notice. His meticulously detailed ink drawings are made entirely by hand on paper or calfskin vellum and are held in collections worldwide. Since his baptism in 2004, most of his artwork has been religious in nature.

Daniel was kind enough to answer my questions and share a little more about himself and his art…

For starters, your art is stunning. I knew this when I asked for the interview. However, I didn’t expect to find such enlightening lectures on your website. They are a treat to read. I particularly liked your lecture titled Heavenly Outlook.

In light of that work, I was wondering if you could more generally comment on the differences between secular art and Catholic art. How should a faithful Catholic approach and appreciate art found both inside and outside of the church?

Thank you.

I do not think that art can be cleanly divided into categories of Catholic and secular. I think you need to consider at the very least three categories. First, there is sacred art that is used in the formal worship of the Church, or that is at least appropriate to be used there: musical settings of the Mass ordinary, vestments, stained glass windows, illuminated Psalters, things like that. Second, there is religious art that is about the Old and New Testaments, or the lives of the saints, or Catholic doctrines and morals – but is not really meant to reside inside the sanctuary. That includes things like Christmas carols and picture book illustrations. And then there is art that is not explicitly religious. But that art might very well present a religious worldview, or teach some important lesson, and thus still be considered Catholic art.

Although most of my drawings are commissioned or bought by individuals and used for private devotion, I try to uphold certain principles that would place them in the first category. What distinguishes sacred art is that tradition and beauty have a special, glorified meaning. I wrote in the lecture you mentioned:

To make art ever more beautiful is not to take it away from its source in history, but to take it back to its source in Heaven. Sacred art does not have a geographic or chronological center; it has, rather, two foci, like a planetary orbit. These correspond to tradition and beauty. One is the foot of the Cross; the other is the Garden of Eden. -“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

So tradition is more than a matter of respecting old ways; it is about carrying Divine Revelation forward through history. Sacred art is akin to the sacred liturgy and the writings of the Church Fathers. It is one of the means by which the memory of what Jesus Christ said and did in the presence of His Apostles was kept. For example, in sacred art, sacred liturgy and patristic exegesis, comparisons are constantly made between events of the Old Testament and events of the New Testament that they prefigure. This is not just poetic fancy; it is a way of thinking that Jesus Christ Himself taught: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

And beauty is more than a manner of pleasing the bodily senses. The appreciation of beautiful art and music is a vestige of our prelapsarian experience; it is a nostalgia for Paradise lost and a means of elevating our minds toward blessedness. Hugh of St. Victor, Suger of St. Denis and St. Hildegard of Bingen, three of the outstanding thinkers of the twelfth century, articulated this theology of beauty especially well.

In sacred art, both tradition and beauty are necessary. To neglect the former is to make sacred art into little more than a showy display.

To neglect the latter – to contend that so long as the art is traditional, it doesn’t really matter how beautiful it is – is a terrible diminution of its holy purpose. Very often, this is justified by a humbug idea of prayerfulness, an idea that to pray means to close your eyes and think pious thoughts to yourself, and nothing more. If this is the idea, then sacred art gets described as prayerful just for being easy to ignore. Any art that is especially beautiful, excellent, elaborate or interesting gets condemned as distracting because it actually compels you to open your eyes and ears and pay attention to it.

I really find this idea offensive. The backs of your eyelids are not windows into Heaven; they are mirrors back into your own imagination! Sacred art is supposed to lift you out of your own imagination, toward the spiritual realm.

Pulling from your lecture Invention and Exultation you are quoted saying, In our time, tradition is not a thing that is handed down so much as a thing that must be excavated. And once an artist begins to dig, he finds, in a different sense, altogether too much.

With this in mind, what do you think the contemporary Catholic artist’s role is in restoring or protecting the traditions of the faith? Do you think there are places for growth or renewal?  

What I was trying to say in that lecture is that tradition has an objective content, a content that anyone can discover. Elsewhere, I have written:

It is an all-too-common error for the faithful in the present day to confuse tradition itself with its legal enforcement by ecclesiastical authority- as though tradition were nothing more than a stack of documents bearing the correct signatures. This is an epistemological absurdity; the bishops who are tasked with writing these documents need to know what they know somehow! –“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

A pope or bishop has no privy religious knowledge that is hidden from the rest of us. Insofar as he knows what is actually traditional, he knows it the same way that you or I do: based on evidence in the agreement of the Church Fathers, the law of worship and the ancient, universal practice of the faithful. The necessary keys to understanding it are the gifts of the Holy Ghost received at Baptism and Confirmation.

I think that a many of the Catholic faithful who are frustrated by bad art, bad music and bad architecture in their churches see no way to fix the problem except by having a pope or bishop write and sign and enforce a document condemning it. I don’t expect any such document to be forthcoming. If I did, I honestly would be terrified. A magisterial attempt to regulate sacred art can do far more to impede the creation of good artwork than bad. I am remembering especially the ruinous efforts of the bishop John Molaus in the late 16th century.

Hopefully, more and more of the faithful will realize that they do not need to wait for official permission to discover, preserve and restore what is actually traditional, or to make beautiful artwork that honors it – whether contributing as artists or patrons. Sacred art is one of the few endeavors that the Church has entrusted to laymen for a very long time, and that is today an advantage.

Your art is incredibly complex and detailed. What is your process? What tools do you use? How do choose the different symbolic pieces for your overall composition?

My preferred medium is ink drawing on calfskin vellum. I do not usually make rough drafts. I work out a composition in pencil on calfskin, then ink over the outlines using a metal-tipped dip pen. I use the pen to apply dark colors, and then paintbrushes to apply light ones. A knife is useful both for correcting mistakes and scratching additional details into the ink once it is dry.

Because calfskin is translucent, I sometimes draw details on the opposite side, in reverse; these can be seen faintly through the vellum, or more clearly when the drawing is held up to a light. Thus, the drawing has a different character depending on the angle and time of day that it is seen.

As for figuring out the appropriate symbolism, that is mostly a matter of preliminary research – into patristic commentaries, art historical writings and older works of art. A useful reference is the Biblia Pauperum, a book from the late Middle Ages that presents forty events from the life of Jesus Christ, each juxtaposed with two events in the Old Testament that prefigure it, and four prophecies.

Admittedly, I am quite a novice when it comes to appreciating and understanding both the devotional purposes of Catholic art and the regularly occurring symbolism that can be found around a church. Where should beginners start? Are there any resources you would suggest?

Some of the very best books for an introduction to the symbolism in sacred art are the trilogy written by the French art historian Emile Mâle, Religious Art in France of the Middle Ages. There is one volume on the 12th century, one on the 13th, and one on the late Middle Ages. All of these have been translated into English. The volume on the 13th century, sometimes titled The Gothic Image, is the most comprehensive, and the easiest to acquire. It has its flaws, but it holds up remarkably well for a scholarly work written a century ago. Another very valuable resource is The Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ lives and commentaries on liturgical feasts that was compiled in the 13th century by Blessed James of Voragine. An English translation by William Granger Ryan is in print.

Full transparency, I am a huge fan of your rosary coloring book. I have often used it as part of my own devotional practice. I am excited to share it with my children in the coming year. As a father, what is your advice when it comes to exposing children to Catholic art?

My purpose in teaching my children about art is not for them to appreciate art just so that they can one day sound smart talking about it! I rather want them to think of it as an ordinary and necessary part of their lives and something that they can themselves make. So in my home, we present holy pictures as familiar things: my kids kiss them goodnight and carry them in household processions. We place pictures around the yard for a little pilgrimage on All Saints’ Day; we hide a handwritten Alleluia sign before Septuagesima; we cover the statues with cloth during Passiontide.

My publisher is marketing my three coloring books (Mysteries of the Rosary, The Saints, and Christian Labyrinths) to adults, but I always thought of them as being for children also. My four kids all love to draw, and don’t need any special encouragement; but for kids who are less inclined, coloring books can be a way to encourage them to participate in art at an early age.

A lot of coloring books marketed to children, especially religious ones, have really insipid artwork and that, of course, defeats the whole purpose. Children appreciate artwork that is made with care and detail; they don’t actually want to look at things that look like they were drawn by other children! I hope to offer an alternative, both with my coloring books and the individual coloring pages available for download on my website,

I advise parents to keep an eye out for picture books on religious subjects that have especially fine illustrations, ones influenced by manuscript illumination or other traditional sacred art. Some favorites in our home include Mikhail Fiodorov’s Bible Stories, Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc, Heidi Holder’s The Lord’s Prayer, Pamela Dalton’s The Story of Christmas, Barry Moser’s Moses, Tomie de Paola’s St. Francis and Gennady Spirin’s Creation. I care more about my children appreciating these illustrations and copying them than about their knowing the big famous names of art history.

Where can people connect with you?

My website is www.danielmitsui.com. This is where I display recent drawings, prints, and writings. I have accounts (Daniel Mitsui, Artist) on Facebook and Pinterest, and my e-mail is danielmitsuiartist@gmail.com. I am accepting commissions now.

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Domestic Church Homeschool Ink Slingers Raising Saints

The One Room Schoolhouse Approach: Catholic Schoolhouse

Catholic Schoolhouse ReviewIt is that time of year where everyone is figuring out what to use next school year.  Social Media is swamped with questions and suggestions from other home educating mothers with the “what worked,” “what did not work,” and the simple, “what do you think of this?” conversations.  Curriculum selection among home educators can be confusing and difficult since we cannot walk into a room and flip through the texts or programs ourselves.  We rely on what experiences other mothers have had with their children in their home schools, which is fine but be sure you ask TONS of questions and keep your individual children in mind.

Recently, we switched out of Our Lady of Victory School (OLVS) with our four smaller children then ages 9, 8, 6, and 4 but our eldest who was a junior will continue using it until he graduates.  We were not disappointed with OLVS at all but I did have a situation where my then nine year old son was bored.  He is a gifted child (high IQ), he is artistic, had trouble learning to read, is a bit lazy, and needs help with Spelling and Writing.  He was bored with the workbooks and the long check lists of things to do.  At the end of the day I was not happy that he did not enjoy school.  Now, please do not think I am telling you to go with every whim your child(ren) have against doing school work.  It took me a long time to come to the conclusion that OLVS was not working for my son. I did recall that when we did lapbooks or projects, he was super engaged.  So that was my starting point.  After much research I realized I needed a program that gave me the flexibility to be as hands on or not as we needed to be.  I decided that the Classical Education approach was something that we have always appreciated, so I began researching all of the Catholic Curriculum that use this approach.

In addition to hands-on, our son has a love for music and also for historical facts, so I started searching for a program that had a strong history curriculum.  The other thing I was looking for was to be able to teach most of the four small children most of the subjects together.  This came in the heels of a field trip we made last Fall to a One room schoolhouse.  The idea of teaching all of the children from kindergarten to high schoolers never really crossed my mind but a group of us from my parish went and voila! it was possible.  I was able to see most of the afternoon lessons and to speak to the lady who ran the day as the school teacher and realized that it was really an ideal way of homeschoolers to teach their children instead of having four different topics to discuss we all would be discussing and digging further into one topic!  Here are pictures of our field trip and our little group, we did fill the schoolhouse that day:

So, with the one room schoolhouse idea in mind is where I began my search and ended with Catholic Schoolhouse.  Now many of my friends were concerned that it was a program designed for Homeschool Co-Ops, which in its original form it was but I could see how it was possible to be used at home exclusively. I have been using it as my core curriculum since last February, 2015 (why yes! I did switch curriculum with four months of school left).  My husband thought I was crazy (I might be) but it was either the children in brick and mortar schools or me in a straight jacket!  So switching curriculum in February was not so crazy after all, it turns out.  What sold me on this program?  This video by Delena of It’s on My To Do List:

So what makes this program so awesome?

First, the children working together for most subjects.  Can you imagine?  When went to a one room schoolhouse, I could not imagine what it was like for the student or the teacher (aside from what I have seen on Little House on the Prairie), so this trip really helped me to see the benefits of the older children learning alongside the smaller children. Also, seeing the smaller children learning from the great answers and discussions they have with the teacher.

Second, the Music.  All of the memory work (Religion, Science, Math, Grammar, History, and Latin) is set to catchy tunes.  Tunes your children will love and your toddlers will learn.  Hey, better they sing these than “Let it go!” no?  You can preview the music on their website.  I also love learning about the different composers and that my small children are able to identify the great composers and their pieces by name! Here is my daughter singing the first part of Psalm 23, and after learning the story of the Good Shepherd:

 

Third, the Science.  I love that they have placed all of the materials needed and the objectives of the lessons organized by specific science subtopics.  I love that they have a memory verse to learn pertinent facts about our lesson.  Learn more about their hands on Science. Here is an example of what we learned in Science this year:

Catholic Schoolhouse Science Lessons
Science Lessons on Insects with Memory verse (song) and diagramming in our notebooks!

Fourth, the Art.  Along with the history, the program also teaches art from the time period.  I love that the Art guide has beautiful color pictures to help explain the lessons and also the detailed plans for the art lesson which teachers so many things.  I love the art vocabulary the children are learning as well as art etiquette (did you know there was such a thing?) Learn more about their integrated Art program.

Fifth, last but definitely not least, the History and Geography.  My children and I are such visual learners that this part of the program really sold it for me.  There are five timeline cards per week which you go through history in the different years (Years 1, 2, and 3).  Marking different times, events, and people important to the time in history, not excluding Catholic events and people, of course.  Here is a lesson we were doing on George Washington.  I was reading to the four children in our living room and they had their notebooks out.  They drew what they wanted from what I was reading to them.  This is my then four year old’s work:

Catholic Schoolhouse history
Learning about George Washington, we do notebooking in composition books and the children write, draw and diagram what we are learning.
Catholic Schoolhouse History
This is the book I was reading from, while my daughter was notebooking.
Catholic Schoolhouse History
Here is my four year old’s interpretation of President George Washington and his horse.

In summary, I highly recommend this curriculum as an option for an at home program.  Mainly because you can teach all of our children together while supplementing in specific areas such as Reading, Spelling, Mathematics, Religion, and Writing (as in you can continue using the texts you already use in these subjects).  I like the flexibility to be as creative as you’d like with the ability to add to the program when needed.  The timeline cards help the visual learner while the wonderful CDs with catchy tunes help the auditory learner master Religion, Science, Math, Grammar, History, and Latin facts with ease.  Lastly, I love the idea of a one room schoolhouse in our Catholic homeschools and the fact that the program is incredibly economical.

Includes Year 2 Tour Guide, Year 2 Art Book, Year 2 Science Book, Year 2 History Cards and Year 2 Memory Work CD set. Price: $169
Includes Year 2 Tour Guide, Year 2 Art Book, Year 2 Science Book, Year 2 History Cards and Year 2 Memory Work CD set. Price: $169

 

Helpful links:

I have decided to use Catholic Schoolhouse, now what do I do?

Ready to buy?  Next year is Year 2.

Want to know more?  Join the Catholic Schoolhouse @ Home – Facebook Group

Check out the Catholic Schoolhouse Pinterest board

What else should I use?

What is their Scope and Sequence?

Want to join one of their Co-ops?

Who created this program?  (psst….Kathy is Lacy from CatholicIcing’s MIL)

Have more questions?  Leave me a comment OR contact Catholic Schoolhouse directly!